There has been a lot of uncertainty for some Americans in recent weeks as President Donald Trump has taken office, and that has extended to the question of how the federal government will proceed with regard to legal marijuana. Especially troubling was the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to the post of U.S. Attorney General over the Justice Department. Sessions in the past has been outspoken in his opposition to legalized marijuana, questioning the character of those who use the drug for any purpose.
However, there is some evidence Sessions may be softening somewhat on his position, and there could be new reason to be hopeful about the Trump-era as far as legal cannabis is concerned. In a recent confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, Sessions, although shying away from a definitive plan for how to treat states’ legalization of the drug, did concede during questioning that to disrupt the legal marijuana markets by enforcing federal cannabis laws could result in an unnecessary strain on federal resources.
Beyond this revelation came the recommendation of Jim O’Neill for the appointment to lead the U.S. Food & Drug Enforcement Administration (FDA). According to Bloomberg News, O’Neill is managing director at Mithril Capital Management and a Silicon Valley investor. He previously served as the principal associated deputy secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. Although he doesn’t have a medical background (and the head of the FDA has been for the lats 50 years either a medical doctor or prominent scientific researcher), he is believed to be a supporter of medical marijuana. He has strong ties with billionaire Peter Thiel, a Trump transition team member who co-founded the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform.
Having an advocate for marijuana legalization could be a game-changer for the industry. The FDA has long been unwilling to budge on its current stance in refusing to consider that marijuana is medicine. This is true even though the FDA has approved three medicines that are marijuana-based.
The hope is that if confirmed, O’Neill would be a catalyst for dramatic change on the issue. Specifically, that he may be able to open the doors blocked by regulations that currently prevent medical research of marijuana. These kind of reforms could, in the long-run, result in marijuana being taken off the Schedule I position of the Controlled Substances Act. The hope is that these efforts would coincide with the Justice Department’s decision to refrain from re-initiating federal policy that targeted marijuana businesses for federal civil forfeiture action. Such actions were common under President Obama’s term until the so-called “Cole Memo” issued by Deputy Attorney General James Cole in August 2013.
The FDA has some of the broadest regulatory authority in the government. It’s responsible for overseeing drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, tobacco, dietary supplements and food that reaches American consumers. It’s also central to pharmaceutical research, and is the agency that oversees clinical trials. O’Neill has previously advocated for freer markets in a wide range of health care services and goods, which he opined would drive down costs and expand innovation.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 949-375-4734.
Trump Team Said to Consider Thiel Associate O’Neill for FDA, Dec. 7, 2017, By Drew Armstrong, Bloomberg
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California Weighs Marijuana Billboard Ban, Jan. 30, 2017, L.A. Marijuana Lawyer Blog